As B.C. school districts, teachers and students prepare for an unprecedented return to classrooms next month, the Okanagan Indian Band’s cultural immersion school has an action plan at the ready.
The school off Vernon’s Westside Road will utilize outdoor spaces as much as possible, require non-medical masks for Grade 1-7 students and install Plexiglas between desks, among a host of other COVID-19 safety measures detailed in the OKIB’s return-to-school plan.
The preliminary plan released Monday, Aug. 10, will see all 86 students enrolled from Kindergarten to Grade 7 return to classes, with specific COVID-19 safety measures detailed for each class — though the band advised that plans could change as the school term approaches.
“Many parents are Elders, and will be vulnerable to community transmission,” the OKIB announcement reads. “In addition, many community members and OKIB staff have compromised immune systems and would likely not fare well with COVID-19, therefore setting school disease prevention standards at a higher level is important to the health and well-being of OKIB.”
The school year will begin outdoors with a cultural and language learning camp for the week of Sept. 14-18, with regular classes to resume Sept. 21. A tent will be acquired for outdoor assemblies and large classes, while smaller classes will make use of the school’s gazebo.
Teachers were expected to return to work at the cultural immersion school Sept. 8, in line with the original planned start date for school across the province.
However, on Wednesday B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming announced the start date for schools will be bumped to Sept. 10 to provide school staffs with extra time to make classroom and curriculum adjustments to meet COVID-19 guidelines.
At the cultural immersion school, K-4 classes will be split into three-hour morning and afternoon groups of 10 students each. The K-5 class will run all day but will not interact with other students in the school’s daycare.
Grade 1-7 classrooms will have Plexiglas installed around desks. The plan is to run full days in those classes, but the OKIB says that’s subject to change.
“If COVID-19 becomes worse students can move to a hybrid program on in-class and online. Children who are sick will be required to stay home and complete all assignments and work using their school laptop,” the back-to-school announcement reads.
Students and staff will be required to complete a self-assessment each morning, with their temperature taken in the morning and at lunch each day.
Assessments of HVAC air purification systems are also being conducted in each classroom, and classroom windows will remain open as weather permits.
Buses will be cleaned after each trip, and students will be required to wear a mask while on board and will be instructed to sit in family groups and self-distance when possible.
The OKIB advised parents and caregivers to begin acclimatizing children about wearing masks and frequent handwashing before school begins, adding communication will be maintained in the lead-up to the school year.
“Parents and community will continue to receive updates through email and OKIB social media. Change or the ‘new normal’ will be difficult but vital to the health and welling of this community.”